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In re Doe

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 13, 2017

In the Matter of John Doe, by and through his parents, James Doe and Jane Doe, Plaintiff,
v.
Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, Defendant.

          Margaret O'Sullivan Kane, Esq., Kane Education Law, LLC, counsel for Plaintiff.

          Christian R. Shafer, Esq., and Timothy A. Sullivan, Esq., Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, PA, counsel for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DONOVAN W. FRANK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Preliminary Injunction, and Waiver of Security, brought by Plaintiff John Doe, by and through his parents, James Doe and Jane Doe. (Doc. No. 5.)

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff John Doe was a student enrolled at Defendant Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts (“SPCPA”). SPCPA is a public charter school organized under Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 124E. (Doc. No. 12 (“Jacobs Aff.”) ¶ 2.) SPCPA is subject to state and federal anti-discrimination laws prohibiting, among other things, sexual harassment. See 20 U.S.C. § 1681 (Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972); Minn. Stat. § 363A.13 (Minnesota Human Rights Act). Through its own policies, SPCPA prohibits harassment or violence on the basis of sex. (Jacobs Aff. ¶ 19, Ex. B at 28 (2017-18 Student Handbook); Doc. No. 8 (“Kane Decl.”) ¶ 2, Ex. 3 at 25 (2016-17 Student Handbook.) SPCPA policy imposes a 5-day suspension for a first offense and expulsion for a second offense with respect to the following behavior:

Participating in or conspiring with others to engage in acts that injure, degrade, intimidate or disgrace other individuals, including indecent exposure, displaying pornography and words or actions that negatively impact and [sic] individual or group based on their racial, cultural or religious background, their sex, their sexual orientation, any disabilities, creed, national origin, marital status, status with regard to public assistance or age.

(2017-18 Student Handbook at 28.) SPCPA's policies are included in its Student and Parent Handbook, which is distributed to students electronically and is available on SPCPA's website.

         On October 9, 2017, three female students informed Dean Ilah Raleigh that Plaintiff had engaged in behavior that included: “[I]nappropriate touch: sitting too close, touching without permission, grabbing a student's leg near the crotch, licking a student's hand, grabbing a student from behind and groping.” (Kane Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 8 (Notice of Suspension); Doc. No. 13 (“Raleigh Aff.”) ¶ 3.) According to the Notice of Suspension, the students verbally and non-verbally indicated that they wanted Plaintiff to stop, and in each case, Plaintiff allegedly escalated the harassing behavior. (Notice of Suspension.)

         Dean Raleigh interviewed Plaintiff in her office. (Kane Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 7; Raleigh Aff. ¶ 3.) Dean Raleigh shared the details of the students' statements regarding Plaintiff's alleged inappropriate behavior. (Kane Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 7; Raleigh Aff. ¶¶ 4, 11.) Specifically, Dean Raleigh read portions of the students' written reports and asked for Plaintiffs' response. (Kane Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 7; Raleigh Aff. ¶¶ 4, 11.) Dean Raleigh noted that Plaintiff indicated that he was not aware that his behavior had bothered the students and that he thought he and the other students had been flirting. (Kane Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 7.) According to Dean Raleigh, Plaintiff admitted to “touching multiple female students” but denied other aspects of the students' allegations. (Kane Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. 7; Raleigh Aff. ¶¶ 4, 11.) During the interview, Dean Raleigh informed Plaintiff that he might be suspended. (Raleigh Aff. ¶ 4.) Dean Raleigh also informed Plaintiff's parents about the allegations, who then indicated that they wanted to come to the school to meet. (Id. ¶ 6.)

         While Plaintiff was waiting for his parents to arrive, he spoke with his English teacher, Emily Johnson. (Plaintiff Aff. ¶ 7.) According to Johnson, Plaintiff stated that some students had accused him of sexual harassment and that he had been suspended. (Plaintiff Aff. ¶ 7; Doc. No. 15 (“Johnson Aff.”) ¶3.) Johnson asserts that Plaintiff denied some of the allegations, but admitted that some allegations were true and that he engaged in conduct that “made other students feel uncomfortable.” (Johnson Aff. ¶¶ 3-4.)

         That same morning, Dean Raleigh met with Principal Ellen Delaney. (Raleigh Aff. ¶ 7; Doc. No. 14 (“Delaney Aff.”) ¶ 3.) Dean Raleigh and Principal Delaney decided that Plaintiff's conduct violated SPCPA's anti-harassment policy, but did not rise to the level of sexual violence or assault. (Raleigh Aff. ¶ 7; Delaney Aff. ¶ 3.) Dean Raleigh and Principal Delaney intended to suspend Plaintiff for five-days per SPCPA policy. (Delaney Aff. ¶ 3.)

         Later on October 9, 2017, Dean Raleigh and Principal Delaney met with Plaintiff and his parents. (Delaney Aff. ¶ 4; Raleigh Aff. ¶ 8.) When asked again about his conduct, Plaintiff admitted touching female students, but denied other aspects of the alleged behavior. (Delaney Aff. ¶ 5; Raleigh Aff. ¶ 9.) Because Plaintiff admitted to some, but denied other aspects, of the behavior, Principal Delaney decided to suspend Plaintiff for three days, rather than five. (Delaney Aff. ¶ 5.) Also on October 9, 2017, Dean Raleigh sent Plaintiff's parents a written notice of the suspension, which included a factual basis for the suspension, plan for readmission, alternative educational services ...


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